‘Rapist’ traced after 22 years kills himself with his wife
THE wife of a suspected rapist made a suicide pact with him after a BBC Crimewatch appeal linked him to a series of unsolved crimes dating back 20 years.
Christine Downes, 51, was ‘besotted’ with her husband Christopher and stood by him when he was jailed twice for attacking prostitutes.
But the prospect of a third jail term was too much for both of them.
Last October, fearing DNA evidence would link him to three attacks on women in the mid-1980s, Downes and his wife, who were childless, drove to a beauty spot, fed a hosepipe from their car exhaust through a passenger window and gassed themselves.
Four days earlier, following a tip-off prompted by the Crimewatch appeal, detectives had taken a saliva sample from 54-year-old Downes.
The sample would later be found to match DNA from the scene of a robbery in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in November 1984.
A masked intruder forced his way into the home of a pregnant woman, attacked her with a knife and fled with cash. Forensic evidence linked that crime to two rapes in the area.
In the first, the following month, an attacker entered Old Manor Hospital and raped a woman at knifepoint and stole money.
Then in the second the next month a woman was raped at Oldstock Hospital.
All three of the victims were in their 20s at the time of their attacks.
The Crown Prosecution Service said that Downes would have stood trial with a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’ if he had not killed himself. Yesterday, an inquest into the couple’s deaths heard that Mrs Downes met her husband through a dating agency in 1985 and they married the following year.
In 1987, Downes served six months in prison for slashing a prostitute with a knife and was jailed for four years in 1990 for assaulting and attempting to rape another prostitute.
Mrs Downes’s brother, Charles March, told the inquest in Winchester, Hampshire: ‘Christine stood by him throughout. She was besotted and said the police had stitched him up. When he was released we had to act as if nothing had happened.’ The inquest heard that Mrs Downes suffered from depression and had attempted suicide two years earlier.
Downes, a delivery driver, slipped through the net during the original investigation into the attacks because he was not at home when officers tried to interview him.
The case was reopened last September as part of Operation Alaskan – launched to return to ‘cold cases’ after advances in DNA technology.
An appeal on Crimewatch prompted 110 callers – one of whom named Downes. He initially refused to give a saliva sample but eventually agreed on October 5. The couple were found dead four days later in a car park on the Wherwell Estate a few miles from their flat in Andover, Hampshire.
Coroner Grahame Short recorded verdicts of suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Downes’s sister said last night the couple left a suicide note saying: ‘Sorry to have left you in this way. We could see no future for us any longer. We both came to this decision together.’
Maggie Hughes, 49, from Amesbury, Wiltshire, made a tearful apology for her brother’s crimes.
She said: ‘If it’s true he’s the rapist I apologise for him for doing it.’